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Scottish Forestry Uses Bluesky Aerial Photomaps to Monitor Tree Health During Lockdown

Scottish Forestry, the government agency responsible for forestry policy, support and regulations in Scotland, is using specially commissioned aerial photography to help identify trees in distress. Trees are facing an increased threat due to pests, disease and climate change, and, as a result of social distancing regulations, Scottish Forestry was unable to undertake its usual helicopter inspections. To maintain its survey programme and help keep the forests flourishing, experienced foresters undertook desk-based studies using the latest, high-resolution aerial photography from Bluesky.

“Our usual process for tree health inspections is three highly trained and experienced foresters, in a helicopter spotting a study area and taking geotagged photographs of any trees that may require further investigation,” commented Patrick Robertson, Tree Health Planning and Contingency Manager at Scottish Forestry. “However, at the height of the COVID lockdown this just wasn’t possible so we looked at what tools we already had and how these could be applied.

“The aerial photography from Bluesky allowed us to identify individual trees and groups of trees that were displaying signs of distress and therefore required additional investigation. As the data is geographically accurate we can then locate the sites and schedule the onward workflows including obtaining access permissions, undertaking risk assessments for site visits and getting the right equipment and the right people at the right place.”

Scottish Forestry awarded Bluesky a contract to capture almost 1,400 square kilometres of standard (RGB) aerial imagery together with colour infrared (CIR) photography following a competitive tender process. The data was captured during the summer of 2020 and delivered to Scottish Forestry ready for use in a range of desktop mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software. The Bluesky photography is intended to support a number of applications within Scottish Forestry whilst CIR offers a unique tool to assist with the assessment of the health and state of vegetation. It can also help identify areas of healthy vegetation from non-vegetated areas.

“This project was a reaction to extenuating circumstances however, what it has done is shown that aerial photography is an effective and efficient way of studying tree health over large areas,” concluded Robertson. “As a proof of concept this will be extremely valuable as we continue to evolve the way we monitor protect our forest assets.”

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